I like to pretend that I’m past the anger. I like to think I have an endless wellspring of patience when it comes to listening to people speculate on "the issue” which is the current state of my city. Last night I lost that patience.
I was having dinner in L.A. with some folks I knew, and some folks I didn’t. I ended up sitting next to a guy I didn’t know. He was a young guy, about to get an undergraduate degree in business and then go to law school. He was quick to inform everyone that he was a diehard republican and wanted to eventually become a judge. He was neatly groomed, a little too neat for a guy….you know the type. He was the kind of guy that has the world keenly compartmentalized in his mind…with an obsessive need to get the people he meets into those cerebral compartments. Kind of like the way Obi Wan described the Sith – “One who speaks in absolutes”….you know the type.
Initially, I thought I might get through the night without “the issue” coming up…no such luck.
“So you’re from New Orleans….how’s it going down there?”
I like the semantic impact of unwell…it usually just hangs in the air and people don’t really know what to do with it. I’ve successfully cut off conversations about “the issue” a number of times with unwell. But not tonight…I was sitting next to Mr. Neat and unwell didn’t quite fit into his compartments.
He started to dig.
“Why is it so bad down there? I don’t understand why you guys can’t get anything done.”
“Well, we don’t have the financial resources or political leadership to do it.”
“How can that be true? Haven’t we been sending you all that money?”
I assume by "we" he meant America...or maybe he had a mouse in his pocket and donated to the Red Cross.
“I’ve heard there's money coming…but I haven’t seen it. Look, it’s important to understand the breadth of destruction in the city…80% of the city was flooded.”
“If it’s that bad, why rebuild it?”
I was still ok…really….I was cool.
“Well, aside from the fact that many of us who live there really love our city, it’s a very important city and area to sustaining the country’s economic infrastructure. ..over 30% of the country’s energy supply runs through the southern end of our state. Our port is one of the busiest in the world. We have petro-chemical plants lined along the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge which are absolutely vital to our food supply…we do a lot for this country quite often at the expense of our own health.”
“I don’t get it, why can’t we just move all that stuff to another state?”
“Aside from the fact that it’s geographically and financially impossible….no other states want these type of factories in their backyard. Refineries and Petro-Chem plants…they’re very nasty creatures. They create a lot of poor health conditions for the people in the surrounding areas. They call the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge ‘Cancer Alley’”
“Why the hell would people live around them or work in them? Why don’t they just leave…are they just to stupid to realize what they’re living in?”
For some reason…that’s what set me off. It doesn’t even bother me that much now that I read it, but when he spoke the words, it very much chapped my ass.
“Because some people have to work for a living. Someone has to make plastic so you can eat fresh Pop-Tarts before you go to your business ethics class. Some people don't have as many options as you do.”
He rambled on about it being a free country and regurgitated a wave of asinine platitudes he pulled off the conservative bookshelf. I was waiting for him to ask why we couldn't get Mexicans to work in those plants...that's the kind of crap that was flowing out of his mouth.
Luckily the food showed up pretty quickly and his hunger took precedence over his need to rationalize “the issue”.
I let it get to me. It was really eating at me driving back to my hotel room. I just kept wondering how many morons there are in this country who really think like this. This guy wants to be a judge…that’s pretty scary.
Later on I got a call from one of my friends from Kentucky who works in a very nasty plant…uranium enrichment…very nasty.
“Hey man…I was just watching that Spike Lee documentary on HBO last night…Jesus Christ, man…I had no idea how bad the shit is down there, man! We oughtta string Bush up by his balls…this shit just ain’t right, man! I just can’t believe this is America…it just ain’t right, man!”
I choked back a tear…or two.
“I know man….it’s not right at all.”
“What can we do about it, man? I’m ready to drive to Washington and start kickin’ somebody’s ass!”
I went from tears to laughter in a millisecond…because I knew if given the opportunity, he would kick somebody in Washington's ass.
“You know bro…just calling me and telling me you care is enough for me right now, I don’t particularly feel the need to kick anyone’s ass anymore.”
We yabbed for a while about the woes of the world…and at the end of the night, I felt a lot better.